TAYLORS — A ministry that started as a play time for a half-dozen youngsters has grown into a love fest for dozens of mothers, their families and a community.
“It’s not just a playgroup. It’s so much more. It’s a ministry of love,” said Jenny McGrady, who started PopTots nearly three years ago at Prince of Peace Church in Taylors.
PopTots serves nearly 80 families, both Catholic and Protestant, from throughout Greenville County. It’s modeled after a play group ministry at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville.
McGrady characterizes herself as a Greenville transplant, having lived in cities throughout the world. She became a mother for the first time three years ago and was looking for a support group for stay-at-home moms.
“I walked in (to St. Mary Magdalene), and it was like manna from heaven. There were a bunch of mommies with little kids, and there was a common interest,” she said.
McGrady said she wanted that kind of ministry closer to her home, and she approached Prince of Peace, which gave her the support she was looking for.
“They said, ‘What can we do to help?'” McGrady said.
The ministry started the day after Labor Day 2000.
“We had maybe six families that first day,” McGrady said. “By that next January, we were up to maybe 35 families, and now we’re up to 78.”
The ministry started as simply a weekly play time for kids who would gather every Monday in the Prince of Peace gym. Since then, the moms have added a monthly field trip, a “mom’s night out,” a Saturday mom’s brunch, a weekly prayer group, a book club, a babysitting co-op and a meal delivery program for new mothers.
McGrady, who teaches French and Spanish at Greer High School, said the ministry has provided another outlet for new moms in their faith journeys.
“For mothers with very young children, the Mass becomes something that you cannot mentally focus on at the same level when you have young children,” she said. “The quiet meditation, the personal one-on-one relationship at Mass doesn’t happen anymore because you’re busy trying to keep the kids quiet. So your spirituality changes to more of an active discipleship.”
The ministry also has stepped in to help new mothers and families during difficult times.
“My second child was born with a birth defect, and we spent the next two months in and out of the hospital,” McGrady said. “I had a 2-year-old who had never been really separated from me, and yet she had 10 other ‘mommies’ there for her.
“It was one of the most difficult times of my life, but at the same time because of the women in the ministry, it was one of the biggest gifts I have ever received,” she said.
PopTots has attracted mothers and families from throughout Greenville County, both Catholic and Protestant.
The mothers come to the ministry from a wide range of experiences.
Sandy Rogers is a parishioner at St. Mary Church.
“I was a corporate mom, without kids, and when I quit my job to have my first child I felt absolutely lost sitting at home every day with this new baby,” Rogers said. “I kept asking myself, is this what I quit my job for?”
Three children later, Rogers is now an active member of the PopTots ministry.
The ministry includes nurses, lawyers, accountants, computer consultants, teachers, artists and cosmetologists.
“It doesn’t matter if you didn’t go to college or if you have a Ph.D. All you need to have is a smile, a good attitude and love in your heart,” McGrady said.
Christy Verzi replaced McGrady as PopTots director in January.
“I had just had my second child, and I wanted to give back what the ministry has given to me,” Verzi said.
Under Verzi’s direction, the ministry recently mailed a care package to a Marine stationed in the Southwest Asia with the 2nd Marine Division. The Marine is the brother of one of the mothers in the PopTots.
“We’re trying to get more involved in social outreach,” Verzi said.
The ministry has grown to the where it now has its own link on the Prince of Peace Web site.
“We want it to be a ministry of love, of living your faith in a good way and in a totally new role,” McGrady said. “Motherhood is such a joy, such a challenge and such a huge part of God’s miracle on Earth.”